PORT VILA: There is growing dissent at this year's Pacific Islands Forum in Vanuatu on how to deal with banned member Fiji.
Fiji was suspended from the forum in 2009 after failing to meet its deadline to hold elections.
Fiji's self-appointed Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama seized power in a 2006 coup and has delayed elections, sacked judges and cracked down on the media, sparking a bitter row with Australia.
There are now calls for Australia and New Zealand to back off and let island nations negotiate with their neighbour.
"There's a feeling there should be more Pacific in the Pacific," said Kiribati President Anote Tong.
Tong said he was not alone in thinking more progress would be made with Fiji if New Zealand and Australia are not part of it.
As the representatives from 15 forum countries met, Prime Minister Edward Natapei told regional leaders that Pacific Island nations have a
responsibility to remain engaged with Fiji.
"As leaders of Pacific Island nations we have the duty and responsibility to remain engaged with Fiji so that democratic principals and practices can be restored in Fiji as soon as possible," he said.
Tong said he believes there needs to be a more traditional approach towards Fiji.
"I think they (Australia and New Zealand) have their own style of doing things. I suspect it's not working very well at the moment. When you are having a head-on collision with somebody you are not the right person to be talking with that person," he said.
"Quite frankly, I believe that there is more likelihood of exchange among the Pacific countries themselves," he said.
Earlier, Prime Minister John Key blasted as a "ridiculous assertion" comments by Fiji's Commodore Frank Bainimarama that Australia and New Zealand should not be in the Pacific Islands Forum because they were "not Pacific Islanders".
"We've always played a leadership role in the Pacific, we're going to continue to do that," Key had said.
Bainimarama also said he did not want to be in the forum group because it was subject to infighting, and was dominated by Australia and New Zealand.
Key now says the forum is united and welcomes Pacific countries talking with Fiji.
"Particularly for a lot of the countries where they are close neighbours, they actually rely on Fiji for services. We have to be practical about what's going on here," Key said. - Television New Zealand/Pacific Media Watch